Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Pikes Peak (MWW) & Charley Parkhurst

For [Mostly] Wordless Wednesday, enjoy a photo of Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods (I've posted this one before).


arkhurst, Charley.

Born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst (some sources say Mary or Charlene, some sources say Durkey), Charley Parkhurst went on to gain a reputation for being one heck of a rough and tumble stagecoach driver...as a man.

During her life, she was known as Cock-Eyed Charley or One-Eyed Charlie. After her death, she was referred to as Mountain Charley.

She was born in 1812, in Lebanon, New Hampshire, the youngest of three children. Her mother died the same year, followed by her brother, Charles. Her father remarried in 1817, but for whatever reason, his two daughters were not welcome in the new family. He dropped them off at an orphanage. Considering the nature of a man who would do this, it's fun to note that his name was Ebeneezer. Appropriate, no?

In 1824, Charley ran away from the orphanage, dressed in boy's clothing. She was able to find work in Worcester, Massachusetts, for a man named Ebeneezer (seriously, how many Ebeneezers can be in one story?) Balch, as a stable hand. She allowed him to believe she was a male. During her time there, working for room and board, she was able to observe the stagecoach drivers. Balch, noticing her interest, took her aside and taught her how to drive a stagecoach, starting with a two-horse coach and eventually getting up to a six-horse coach. She became so good at it that he took her with him to Providence, Rhode Island, where she gained fame as one of the best stagecoach drivers in the country. Everyone asked for her; many would take no one else.

She continued in this way for many years, until the night her hands froze while waiting outside a dance for her passengers. She was forced to call in another driver, Liberty Childs, and took quite a ribbing about it. She fled to Georgia soon after, though it's not said whether this was due to the hard time about her hands or, as is speculated, her hands gave her away to Liberty as being feminine. Either way, she took off. When she arrived in Georgia, she got a job as a driver for a man named Jim Birch, who took her to California when he opened a new business out there.

Somewhere in here, Charley was out of sight for awhile. Some feel she may have met a man and had a child, as it was determined after her death that she had birthed a baby at some point. There is also a story of her being an important witness in a court case and having to travel under the assumed name of Charles Clifton. Passengers on a ship she went on called her Thunderbolt. It was from this ship that she arrived in San Francisco in 1851.

She drove stagecoaches in California during its gold boom days, increasing her reputation exponentially. She was known to be rough and tumble, and it's said she took out bandits trying to stop her stage. One of these bandits went by the name of Sugarfoot. He held her up twice, but that second time was the last time for him, as she shot and killed him. No more Sugarfoot.


At one point, she was kicked in the eye by a horse. Stories vary on whether it was while she was shoeing it or whether she was trying to calm a horse after a rattlesnake startled it. Either way, this is when she gained the nicknames of Cock-Eyed Charley and One-Eyed Charley, though these weren't used to her face. The loss of an eye didn't stop her, and she continued as a driver across California, constantly forging new and better paths between various towns as they sprang up. Wells Fargo trusted her implicitly, and she was even asked to take loads of gold from California to New York, always successfully.

In 1861, she retired from the life of a stagecoach driver. She tried out chopping lumber and became a landowner, running a ranch of her own. In 1867, she registered to vote. There is no true record of whether she did, in fact, vote. If so, some claim she would have been the first female voter, while others claim women were allowed to vote in some places before the election she would have participated in.

Charley died December 18, 1879, in Watsonville, California, of cancer of the tongue. When her friends came to tend to her body, it was discovered she was a female. The coroner announced that she had given birth at some point, and a dress was found in a trunk that is said to have been sized for an infant, accompanied by a pair of baby shoes. What happened to that baby, or when this birth might have occurred, is unknown, as much of her life is unaccounted for, including her time in the orphanage, and time she spent bouncing around between Georgia and New England.

By being someone else, Charley got to lead the life she wanted, doing things other women could never dream of doing. In that, she had a good life.

1. After the incident on the east coast, Charley took to wearing leather gloves to cover up her hands and, possibly, to protect them.

2. Charley was known for having a foul mouth, cussing up a storm, chewing tobacco, and smoking cigars.

3. In the 1860's, Charley was discovered as a woman by friends when she came to their house drunk. They sent their teenage son up with her to put her to bed, and he happened across the "evidence" of her true gender. The Clark family never told a soul until after Charley's death and subsequent outing.

4. She once rolled an empty stagecoach and broke several ribs. She never saw a doctor, and continued driving stages through the pain.

5. She got a stage full of people over a bridge during a massive rainstorm. It flooded and took out the bridge, just as she got off of it.

6. Charley was thrown from a stagecoach once, but held onto the reins, eventually pulling herself back up and getting the horses back in line.

What do you think of Ol' Charley?

May you find your Muse.

*Letter P courtesy of LeeAnn, clker.com
**Concord Stagecoach, Concord stagecoach in the American West, ca. 1869.

Source: Photographs of the American West: 1861-1912 US National Archives & Records Administration, Caption: "Typical stage of the Concord type used by express companies on the overland trails. Soldiers guard from atop, ca. 1869.", Wikimedia Commons

12 comments:

  1. Sounds like a lovely person to have over for lunch :P

    Jamie
    Fellow A-Z Buddy
    Doing a monumental blog catch-up
    Mithril Wisdom

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  2. Wow that's an amazing life story! She sounds like quite a woman!

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  3. Wow! I totally want to write a book about this now :)

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  4. I've heard of Charley before, I think she's fascinating. And great picture of the Peak.

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  5. Wow, what an amazing life Charley lead.

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  6. Never heard of her. That's a pretty amazing story!

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  7. There is a Historical Fiction novel about Charley..."The Whip" by Karen Kondazian.

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  8. wow....utterly amazing story.....quite the life less ordinary!!

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  9. I'd never heard about Charley before, what a fascinating story. One of these characters is more interesting than the next.

    Love the photo!

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  10. I almost thought this was a made up story. It is amazing she managed to hide her gender for most all her life. We some funny history in this country. Although this exact same thing could going on right now!

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  11. Jamie, but she'd be interesting!

    KMcKendry, she was definitely interesting!

    J.A., that would be awesome!

    KC, thanks! I don't think I'd heard of her before I found her.

    Susanne, she really did! And she lived it how she wanted.

    Andrew, I hadn't either, but she blew me away.

    Crack, yay!

    Anonymous, I had no idea. I'll have to look it up.

    Young, the best kind of life story!

    Julie, that's great to hear!

    Chuck, that's true. People hide their real gender these days, too.

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